Pope Francis sends blessing to University of Saint Joseph

The University of Saint Joseph held a ceremony this Thursday to celebrate its 25th anniversary and the Vatican did not let the occasion go unnoticed, with the granting of a papal blessing. The higher education institution expects to enrol the first students from Mainland China in the second semester of the current academic year. Bishop Stephen Lee is confident that the university will be able to preserve its international nature in the medium and long term.

Marco Carvalho

Pope Francis granted the Papal Blessing to the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) for its 25 years of existence. The document was handed over this Thursday by Bishop Stephen Lee to the rector of the higher education institution, Stephen Morgan, during the University’s 25th anniversary celebration. 

The ceremony took place in the Fatima Centenary Auditorium, in the presence of the Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Edmund Ho Hau Wah; the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Elsie Ao Ieong U; the Education and Youth Affairs Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Macau SAR, Hsu Tin; Macau Foundation President Wu Zhiliang and several diplomats based in Macau. The forty-minute ceremony reached its apex with the inauguration, in the Ilha Verde campus of the University of Saint Joseph, of a statue of the Chinese philosopher Confucius and a Donors’ Wall in honor of the personalities and institutions that contributed the most to the growth of the Catholic university over the past 25 years.

In the brief speech she made at the Fatima Centenary Auditorium, the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, who represented Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng at the ceremony, confirmed that, ever since it was founded 25 years ago (back then it was called Macau Inter-University Institute), the University of Saint Joseph has managed to assert itself “as a Macau university, for Macau and at the service of Macau.” Elsie Ao Ieong U recalled the contribution that was given by USJ to the formation of skilled workers and expressed the wish that the Catholic-inspired university may take advantage of its specific characteristics to contribute to the development of the Greater Bay Area project and to prepare bilingual technical experts. 

Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang – Chancellor of the University of Saint Joseph since 2017 – said that the ceremony was an opportunity to recall all the achievements and conquests the university obtained during the last 25 years. Bishop Lee thanked the support that was provided by the local authorities and did not forget the seven thousand and five hundred students from various countries that studied at USJ over the last 25 years, imbuing it with an undeniable international character. It is this cosmopolitan nature that, he claims, the University should be able to preserve in the medium and long term: “I think the most important is for the University to keep its mission as a platform for many nationalities, many races and many beliefs, so that the students can know China and the Chinese culture. This is, actually, my great expectation: that the University may become a platform for the Chinese and Western cultures to meet, to appreciate each other and to learn from each other,” Bishop Lee told O CLARIM. “We believe that, through charity, through the love we feel for  each other, we are one family. That is why, in education, when we pursue the truth, the good and beauty, we can be together. We cannot separate these from one another. This is why I hope that the University can keep up its international nature,” the prelate attested. 

Sustainable Growth

Created in 1996 by the Diocese of Macau and the Catholic University of Portugal, and then known as the Macau Inter-University Institute, the University of Saint Joseph was recently given a green light to recruit students from Mainland China. The authorization granted by the Central Government should allow USJ to consolidate its educational project, by offering its students “international experience” in the context of “a Catholic atmosphere”: “Our objectives remain the same. That is, to continue to grow steadily to provide a really high quality, international experience for students in a Catholic atmosphere. In so far as our students from the Mainland are concerned, we hope to demonstrate to the People’s Republic as far as we can that the University of Saint Joseph is a place committed to witness and service, committed to the same values that motivate us all: those of peace and harmony, wisdom and education,” the rector of the University of Saint Joseph told O CLARIM.

Initially – and on an experimental basis – the institution will be able to enrol students from mainland China in postgraduate programs in areas such as Architecture, Business Administration, Information Systems and Science. The process, Stephen Morgan says, is arousing a great interest in Mainland China, much to the surprise of USJ’s leadership: “We are looking at our recruitment for next year, because the permission came very late this year. We will have some students in the second semester, but the level of enthusiasm, the level of interest is very high and our biggest problem is going to be saying no to a lot of people,” the dean of the University of Saint Joseph claimed. 

The main priority of the university, Dr Morgan clarifies, is now to consolidate the quality of the education provided: “We have a fairly wide range of Master Degrees and our Bachelor Degrees at the moment meet the requirements that we think are better suited to Macau. It is very important to manage and to do as many things as we can, but the programs that we have, we think are very well suited to our current status. Maybe over the next two or three years we might bring forth some specialism at Doctorate level,” the Welsh deacon told O CLARIM.